The long awaited question on who would drive the No. 88 Chevrolet for the retiring Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2018 has now been answered and the driver is a familiar one for Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 88 team.
On Thursday, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Alex Bowman, who expertly filled in for Earnhardt while he was recovering from his concussion last season, would climb behind the wheel for the team next season, with sponsorship from Nationwide and Axalta continuing on.
The 24-year old Arizona native drove in 10 of the final 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races for the team last year, scoring three top-10 finishes, including a pole at Phoenix, where he would lead a race-high 194 laps.
“Ever since I was a kid, racing is all I’ve wanted to do,” Bowman said. “I’ve had so many people believe in me along the way. My family has sacrificed a lot and always been behind me. I would never have this chance without the support of Dale and everyone involved with the No. 88 team. To be part of Hendrick Motorsports and for Mr. Hendrick to have this confidence in me, it’s just amazing.
“The No. 88 team is such a great group of people. I know we can pick up where we left off last year, and I truly believe we can win races and contend for a championship. I’m excited to build on the relationship with Nationwide and all of our partners. It means the world that they have faith in me, and I’m thankful to have them on my side. Now I just want to go win.”
Since Earnhardt’s retirement announcement in April, Bowman has been at the top of the list of potential drivers to drive for the team next season, given his tenure behind the wheel late last year, as well as him being the test and simulation driver for the organization, giving him a leg up on the competition due to his knowledge of the inner workings of Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt and fellow teammate Jimmie Johnson also publicly lobbied for Bowman to get the nod for next season.
In addition to the announcement that Bowman would drive for the team next season, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Nationwide would continue their sponsorship of the team into 2018, with their colors adorning the No. 88 car for 19 races. Likewise, Axalta will also continue their sponsorship into next season, but will be increasing the number of races they sponsor to 15 races, giving Bowman sponsorship for 34 of the 36 races.
“Alex impressed the heck out of us last year with his talent, poise and professionalism,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “He stepped up in a very demanding situation and showed that he can run with the best and compete for wins. His ability to stay focused through it all, and the way he’s handled himself since then, has shown a lot of character. Greg and the team loved working with Alex, and that dynamic will get even better with more time together.
“Our relationship with Nationwide is unbelievable. They have a true passion for NASCAR and our fans, and to have them extend with us is gratifying for our whole team. It’s also a credit to the way Alex carried himself last season and built lasting relationships. We’re fortunate to work with partners like Nationwide and Axalta that have built impactful, enduring programs around the countless opportunities our sport provides.”